Big Food Piles on as Congress Considers GMO Label Ban

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August 20, 2015 - This summer the so-called “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a one-sided vote of 275-150. Opponents of the legislation prefer the name Deny Americans the Right to Know Act (DARK) because it denies states the right to require labeling of GMO foods, and consumers the right to know what their food contains.

If approved, the DARK Act would nullify laws in three states that require labeling of food products containing GMO ingredients. Vermont law mandates labeling of food products with GMO ingredients beginning July 1, 2016; while labeling laws in Connecticut and Maine are scheduled to go into effect when other northeastern states pass similar legislation.  Another 17 states are considering similar legislation.

The DARK Act would bar states from enacting laws requiring GMO labeling, block state laws prohibiting the term “natural” on advertising and labels of GMO foods, and make it virtually impossible for U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set up a mandatory national GMO labeling system.  

Use of GMO ingredients is prohibited by law in certified organic foods, and several independent groups have launched voluntary labeling efforts to identify other foods free of GMO ingredients. These efforts would not be affected by the pending legislation.

The next step for this bill is the Senate where it is anticipated that Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) will introduce a companion bill and Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, indicated he plans on moving the bill forward. Potential remaining obstacles to the bill include rejection by the Senate or a veto by President Obama.

Perhaps a more interesting story is the millions spent by large food companies to promote a bill which denies consumers the right to know the contents of their food, and is overwhelmingly unpopular with consumers. Support for labeling of GMO food has repeatedly topped 90 percent in national polls, a result driven by female shoppers that cuts across partisan lines.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) in Washington, D.C. did an analysis of this spending by large food and biotechnology companies. Based on reports filed with the Clerk’s Office, U.S. House of Representatives and the Secretary, U.S. Senate, these companies spent $51.6 million in the first half of 2015, some or all of which went to lobby for legislation that would block state and federal agencies from requiring food companies to label products that contain GMO ingredients.

All told, since 2013, the food and biotech industries have spent $143 million in lobbying expenditures that mentioned GMO labeling. 

The DARK Act is a prime example of why a strong grassroots network is needed to offset the spending by large food companies to control the information available to consumers and to dictate how Americans spend their food dollars. Consumers need to make their views known to elected officials and spend their food dollars with companies who share their beliefs.

In the meantime, if you want to avoid GMO food products for your family, look for the USDA’s Certified Organic label.

 

By Jane Shey, OFRF Policy Associate

Image courtesy of Genetic Literacy Project